You’ve read as many “How to Parent” guides as you could get your hands on while waiting for your arrival of your new baby. You felt well-read and well-prepared as you braved the first year or so of parenthood. Now that it’s time to figure out how to get your child out of your bed, and possibly their own room, you’re lost.
Before we get into the down and dirty, I’m going to bore you with some information about basic psychology so that you can understand why it’s important to really, really establish a routine. Behavior modification techniques are utilized by therapists to shape behavior. In other words, if a client has a behavior that he/she wants to change then a mental health provider will probably work with the client and his/her caregiver(s) to:
- pinpoint the problematic behavior and potential triggers
- identify the desired behavior
- create a reward system based on incremental steps to reach the behavioral end goal
While I’ve provided an extremely simplified overview of what might occur in treatment, I’m hoping to have addressed the “why” of what you’ve tried hasn’t worked.
Keep this in mind but don’t fret. Here are some quick and surefire tips to peacefully transition your child to their own space.
1. Establish a solid routine (and stick to it).
As humans, we innately crave routine and order. Likewise, children require structure. Set a bedtime and create a regime for the hour leading up to the time you want them to go to bed. Follow the routine as closely as possible. If you know that you won’t be able to put the child to bed at the same time most nights, then establish a pattern that works for your lifestyle or have someone help with bedtime so that it will be consistent.
2. Involve the child in the bedtime routine as much as possible.
Would you rather be micromanaged at work or empowered to meet your goals? Have you ever heard of buy-in? Well, that doesn’t just pertain to the business world. Allow your child to buy into the idea of getting ready for bed by making it something that you do together; sort of like your collective bedtime business. Doing this will shift your child’s perspective from being forced to go to bed to taking ownership of his/her part of his/her own bedtime routine.
3. Clearly state the bedtime.
If bedtime is 8:00 p.m., then let it be known. I don’t know about you but I want to know as early as possible what time I should expect my work day will end. It annoys me to no end when someone throws a monkey wrench in my plans by telling me something at the last minute. Oftentimes, I simply need time to wrap my head around the timing.
Additionally, language develops by modeling effective communication skills. So, why not kill two birds with one stone by telling your child what he/she should expect. While pointing to a clock, watch or other time-telling device, concisely state something like, “Malcolm your bedtime is at 8:00.” Do not negotiate. Refer back to #1 if needed as consistency is key.
4. The bedtime countdown.
For an 8 o’clock bedtime, start the countdown with the child by 7 o’clock. “Okay Malcolm, we have one hour until bedtime. It’s bath time now. “ Followed by, “It’s 7:10, time to get out of the tub and put on your lotion.”, etc.
5. Take care of their personal business.
There’s never been a busier kid than a kid who’s supposed be going to bed. Make sure you have them empty their bladder, take a sip of water, kiss the dog goodnight, etc. before they lay down.
6. Safe and secure.
If the child complains about being scared of the dark then place a dim nightlight in the room. Make sure the nightlight isn’t too close to the bed so the light isn’t directly in their line of sight. Another idea might be to leave the lights on in the hall so that the light shines underneath the door but leaves the room dark enough to foster a restful sleep.
If the child is scared of monsters, do what I call a monster check before they get into the bed. Walk around the room with them, checking under the bed, in the closets and behind curtains while having them state with you, “no monsters here!” This will reassure the child that there’s nothing to be afraid of and will minimize the excuses at bedtime.
7. Shut off the outside noise.
If you have the television blaring and the rest of your house is a loud madhouse, yeah… that’s not going to work. Everyone within a earshot of the child’s sleeping space has to be on board in order for the routine to work.
8. Dim the lights.
Set the mood for the occasion. Turn down the lights starting about thirty minutes before bedtime. This starts the bedtime wind down.
9. Time to retire.
When it’s time to get in the bed, have them lay down and stay there. No negotiations, unless it’s an emergency. Remember consistency is key.
10. Bonding time, not banishment.
Read a book to the child, play relaxing music, say prayers, etc. You won’t have to yell for the child to go to bed if you allow them to wind down before heading to bed. Eventually, you will both come to expect and joy this time with one another. Our lives are so busy. This is a way to steal a few moments of “just us time” with our children.
11. Lower your voice.
No shouting, please. Gradually lowering your voice to almost a whisper is a subtle way to indicate that bedtime is approaching.
12. Five minutes before bedtime.
Take no more than five minutes before the previously identified bedtime to tell your child good night, give them a kiss and start the tuck-in process. Remember back at #5; now it’s your turn. Take care of your personal business and know that even if your child cries hysterically now, they will eventually follow your consistency and go to bed with no resistance. It’s important that you don’t extend your good night routine beyond his/her actual bedtime. Think of the inch-mile idiom.
13. It’s Bedtime!
We’re at the home stretch now. You’ve made it this far but you’ve got to be strong to see this through until the end. Focus! Are you with me? Great, you’ve said good night, now walk away. You can sit in another room out of sight, if you wish.
Your child will probably try to test you the first few nights and vie for your attention. This is not time for long conversation and hugs. You can do that in the morning once they’ve had a good night’s sleep.
If they leave the room to look for you, direct them back to their bed. You can walk them back, place the covers back on them, make eye contact and direct them to stay in bed. Leave the room.
Repeat as necessary but scale back on the amount of attention you provide each time they leave the room. For example, take away the conversation by pointing to the bed instead of telling them to stay in the bed. They’ll see that you’re serious and eventually they’ll get tired and go to sleep.
14. It’s morning. Time to celebrate.
It took them an hour the first night but they eventually went to sleep. Celebrate.
It took them 59 minutes the second night but they went to sleep. Celebrate.
Get it? Praise and reward your baby for trying. Now is the time for all of the hugs that you couldn’t give last night. Give him/her plenty of hand claps and praises, like “Yayy, good job! I’m so proud of you!”
Repeat #1-14 each night until your baby learns how to sleep in his/her own bed.
Parenting Ain’t Easy
They will try to test you and you may end up in a standoff with your toddler/preschooler. They may be like my youngest daughter and fall asleep sitting up because they are just that “strong minded”. Once she realized that I wasn’t playing and I wasn’t going to change my mind about this whole going to bed thing, she gave into the bedtime routine. She cried so hard, you’d think that I was harming her but I wasn’t. I was teaching her the values of consistency, following direction, listening to adults, self care and so much more. On the flip side, please don’t think that I didn’t want to just hug my baby and forget about this whole going to bed thing. Parenting isn’t always easy or fun, but it has to be done. And, you can and will do it.
The bright side is when the teenage years approach, you’ll fondly look back at this moment in time wishing that you could go back to the bedtime battle.